How to Play Horse in Basketball

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The game of HORSE is one of the easiest and most fun basketball games you can play. The rules are straightforward, and it’s a way for kids and adults to compete without a significant handicap. (Unless the adult can dunk, which is so not fair!) You don’t even need pristine courts for this game, because a backyard hoop should be enough. If you’re not too familiar with HORSE, then you came to the right place. So without much ado, let’s see if you could learn how to play HORSE in basketball from reading this article.

Why is the Basketball Game Called HorseWhy is the Basketball Game Called Horse?

In all honesty, no one knows why this game is called HORSE. The one probable explanation is that players who invented and participated in the first HORSE game thought a game with five shots would be ideal. Nobody knew how exactly, but it’s likely that someone just thought of the five-letter word HORSE at the top of his head. We’re sure you would have thought of another word if you were the one who invented it. 

But did you know that there is a variation of HORSE and it’s called PIG? Apparently, people who came up with PIG are those who don’t have that much time and just wanted to get it over with. PIG follows the rules of HORSE. Contrary to the game of PIG, someone invented a more extended variation of HORSE, called “7 Horses.” That’s just one number added there, but you get the idea.

Another similar game is called Around the World, but unlike PIG, ATW follows a different set of rules.

How Does Horse Work in BasketballHow Does Horse Work in Basketball?

Because playing HORSE is so simple, it is a favorite of everyone regardless of age. The competitors in the game of HORSE, preferably two or more people, take turns attempting shots from any spot on the court. The second, third, or fourth players will imitate the shot of the first competitor.

By that alone, if you are going first, the more difficult the shot is, the better. Some ideas to include in your shots are crazy behind-the-back dribbles or any form of fancy ball handling. Or if you’re a dead shot from 30 feet out, then let those bombs go. If you’re proficient with your off-hand, you can also show some ambidexterity and attempt a left-handed free throw (if you’re right-handed).

What are the Rules of Horse in BasketballWhat are the Rules of Horse in Basketball?

What are the Rules of Horse in Basketball

HORSE is just like the game “Simon Says” but with a basketball. To start the game, all the participants should decide who goes first. There is no definite rule on how to do this correctly, so perhaps a quick rock-paper-scissors game or a coin toss should do it. In any case, a fixed sequence of who’s going first, second, third, and so on should be determined.

The first player taking the shot holds the key. He can attempt a shot from literally anywhere on the court, even from out of bounds. He can also explain what his attempt is going to be like “I’m going to kiss it off the glass” or “I’m going to do it with eyes closed.” Whatever he decides to do, the first player to shoot only gets one attempt. 

If he makes the shot but did not satisfy the rules he stated, that shot does not count. The next player is allowed to shoot wherever and however he wants. Now, if he does make the shot while satisfying all the rules he said beforehand, then he retains the license to dictate the next shot. The next player in the sequence should attempt the shot that the first player took, and if he misses, he will accrue letters from the word HORSE. If a player has all the five letters, that means he has lost the game.

At this point, the same rule applies: One player attempts a shot, and if he makes it, the next one attempts the exact same shot. If the player initiating the shot misses, he gets a letter, and the next player in line will now try the shot. 

But, wait! What if all the other players made the shot that the lead player attempted? One good turn deserves another, right, so that means the lead player still has the privilege to attempt another shot.

The beauty of this game is that it’s free-flowing, leisurely but exciting, and brings out your creativity. You never know what you’re capable of unless you try something crazy out there. You can also tweak the rules to keep things interesting. With the game of HORSE, the possibilities are endless.

Is Dunking Allowed in HorseIs Dunking Allowed in Horse?

We have seen HORSE games by high-level players that included dunks, but rules about physical limitations are imposed if a participant is not able to do so. Usually, though, dunking in a game of HORSE is not allowed.

The NBA HORSE challenge played last April 2020 had a specific “no dunking” rule. The eight participants were Trae Young, Chauncey Billups, Mike Conley, Tamika Catchings, Paul Pierce, Zach Lavine, Chris Paul, and Alli Quigley. If dunking were permitted, that guy named Lavine would have won that competition hands down. That said, it was Conley over Lavine in the NBA Horse Challenge finals.

6 Tips on How to Play Horse and Developing Trickshots6 Tips on How to Play Horse and Developing Trickshots

Logic tells us the better shotmaker and shooter will always win in the game of HORSE. Knowing that, it would serve your best interests to hone your shooting skills. It is also not a bad idea to practice layups and free throws with your off-hand. That skill should also translate seamlessly into a real basketball game.

With excellent shooting and ambidexterity, you can probably hold your own at HORSE with anyone. However, if you don’t like losing, especially to your obnoxious friends or brothers, we suggest you include an arsenal of trick shots in your HORSE repertoire.

Here are some ideas:

1. The No-Look. This shot is pretty much the ice-breaker when everyone is making shots. The no-look is your “kick it up to the next level” type of shot. Of course, don’t dare attempt it if you have not practiced. The key is to take a good look at the rim and visualize when you look away from it. Or if you have the Michael Jordan swagger flowing through your veins, you can even practice shooting free throws with your eyes closed.

2. Take a seat on the floor and shoot it. This shot is a little bit difficult since it requires a lot of upper body and wrist strength. You can include this as a drill because it’s an excellent workout to strengthen the flick of the wrists. If you’d like to do this trick, aim for a bit more arc on your shot than usual. Once you get the wrist strength down to pat, you’ll have a pretty good chance of making this shot.

3. Behind-the-back. We’re not talking about dribbles here, but an actual shot attempted from behind your back. This is not your garden-variety trick shot, so it needs a lot of practice to perfect. The trick here is to get enough lift from your legs so the ball aimed from your back will have a chance to reach the hoop. Also, try to approximate if you can use the glass to your advantage. Yes, it isn’t elementary, but it’s also satisfying!

3. Use the dribble. Everybody needs to know that playing basketball HORSE is not just about shots. All the action before the actual attempt counts too. Incorporate everything in your dribbling repertoire before every shot, and we assure you, it’s going to be a long day for the opposition, whoever that is.

Use the dribble

4. Go under the leg. One guy from YouTube did it, and while he made it look easy, this still needs a ton of practice. If you don’t have enough flexibility and wrist strength, you will fall short every time. Practice, practice, and more practice!

5. Bounce and basket. The same guy we mentioned earlier had this in his bag of tricks. However, while his shot was from way beyond the three-point line (and facing his back to the basket), you can adjust it to be much more simple. Stand anywhere from 10-15 feet from the hoops and attempt to bounce the ball hard once in the floor and into the basket.

6. Behind the backboard. Shooting from behind the backboard requires practice and approximation. The skill needed for this trick shot translates into real basketball because it forces you to develop a beautiful arc on your shot.

Wrapping Things Up: How to Play Horse in Basketball?

The game of HORSE is an excellent alternative to the usual basketball game. Skillset and level do not always matter in playing HORSE, and it is also a unique way to warm up, develop trick shots, and expand basketball skills.

No one exactly knows the name origin of HORSE in basketball, but who cares? It does what it’s supposed to, and that’s bringing enjoyment and fun to basketball. Additionally, the rules are elementary and straightforward, so even kids can join in the riot. (Just don’t beat them up all that bad, okay?)

Taking everything into consideration, it’s pretty easy to master the basics of how to play HORSE in basketball. Just don’t forget to continue building your repertoire and be persistent in developing your shot-making skills when playing basketball HORSE.

If you found this helpful, you’ll love our other FAQ articles here.

> How to Play 21 in Basketball (With Variations)

> What is a Pickup Game of Basketball?

> How Long is a Basketball Game?

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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